Remember the tale of the Emperor’s new clothes?
Before the game against Croatia, when asked what England’s greatest asset is, Gary Neville replied: “The manager.”
While the panel all nodded in agreement, I was left wondering why the pundits see Gareth Southgate as England biggest asset, when I see him as potentially England’s greatest liability?
Southgate entered management in June 2006 when he took over Steve McClaren’s Middlesbrough team.
In the 2005-06 season, Boro had finished safely mid-table in the Premier League, reached the League Cup quarter-final, the FA Cup semi-final and the UEFA Cup Final.
However, in just three years, Southgate took them down to the Championship and was sacked in October 2009 having won fewer than 30 percent of his games in charge.
After four years in football’s wilderness, in August 2013 he replaced Stuart Pearce as England Under-21 manager.
His most notable achievement with them was qualifying for the 2015 European Championship, where England finished last in their group – despite having players such as Harry Kane, Danny Ings, Patrick Bamford, Jesse Lingard, James Ward-Prowse, John Stones and Eric Dier in the squad.
Southgate was installed as interim senior England manager in September 2016 with the FA scrambling to find a replacement for Sam Allardyce, who had to resign after just one game.
During that time, Southgate’s England beat Malta, drew 0-0 with Slovenia, beat Scotland and threw away a 2-0 lead against Spain.
That was seemingly enough to land him the job full time, despite not being considered for the role just months earlier when Roy Hodgson resigned. In reality, it felt like Southgate was appointed because he was not the type of character to rock the boat in the wake of the embarrassment around Allardyce’s departure.
He then led England to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup. Some say this was a great triumph. I say it was a missed opportunity, where we squandered the easiest route to the World Cup final that we are ever likely to have. We beat Tunisia (just), Panama (in the first half at least), Columbia (on penalties) and Sweden. We also lost to Belgium twice and Croatia. Despite this average showing, Southgate seemed to reach an inconceivable legendary status.
Now, just two games into Euro 2020, despite winning our first game and drawing our second, England look bland and Southgate’s tactics and substitutions are starting to draw questions. Southgate is clearly a nice and astute man. His pre-tournament letter to the nation was a spectacular read. But it amazes me that in such a results-based business, not only did he get the job in the first place, but now to be considered “England’s greatest asset” seems baffling.
Perhaps his fabulous credentials are invisible only to me and I am indeed a fool – or perhaps, much like the Emperor’s new clothes, they never really existed.